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00006. Bone and Feather

“Blackguard?” Maddox fumes incredulously, their voice croaking as it always does whenever raised above conversational tones. “How did you get here?” They demand. “How did you find us? Who did you lead here, you fool!”

Iofi and Blackguard are gingerly laying Meadowgloom down in the pantry, which is just barely large enough to accommodate his frame. He rolls his large watery eyes around without focusing on much of anything. He gasps for breath, his mouth opening and closing repeatedly like a fish. He is deathly pale.

Iofi looks up over her shoulder and glares at Maddox. They continue to fume, but quietly.

“Go get ready to snap inside the wall,” she says.

Maddox raises their eyebrows, a silent question.

“We shouldn’t move Meadowgloom any more. And,” her voices hardens, “I want whoever did this.”

“Are you sure about this? You’re willing to be god’s hammer?”

She nods resolutely. “Take the bathroom door.” Maddox nods and leaves.

“You,” she says, turning back to Blackguard, “stay here with Meadowgloom.” Probably didn’t need to be said. The man in the top hat has made no effort to leave his side, not even once.

“Stay quiet. We’ll be back for you when this is over.”

She stands up and exits the pantry and closes the door. She reaches into her satchel and pulls out a trinket, a small tin key that might open a music box. She stoops down and places it by the door frame, and touches the door, and whispers, “Hidden.”

The door vanishes.

She makes a round through the apartment, blessing each door and making small offerings.

~ * ~

Outside, a small street urchin watches from the gutter as a figure emerges from the shadows and approaches the door to the apartment. It turns the handle and silently crosses the threshold. The urchin vanishes.

The Dead Ringer climbs the steps up to the apartment above the bookstore. At the top of the stairs is a closed door, the door to the living area. He listens and hears nothing. He tries the handle. It is unlocked. He lets himself inside.

Inside is a plain, empty room. There is a small table and chairs in the middle, and a door in each of the other three walls.

The Dead Ringer listens and looks for signs of activity and, finding none, steps into the room and looks around a little. He tries one of the doors, opens it and peeks inside. The next room is plain and empty. There is a small table and chairs in the middle, and a door in each of the other three walls.

He looks back at the current room. And back through the door. The rooms are identical. He cautiously steps inside and closes the door behind him. He tries another door, only to find the same room once again.

He retraces his steps to the original room and opens the door to the stairwell. On the other side is a plain, empty room. There is a small table and chairs in the middle, and a door in each of the other three walls.

He closes the door quietly and backs up and looks around the room again.

~ * ~

Iofi and Maddox are sitting in the bedroom.

She is sitting on the bed, feeding a strawberry to the small, two-headed, black turtle in her lap. Both heads are eating toward the center from opposite sides, and both seem very content.

Maddox is sitting still staring blankly at the wall. They do that when concentrating on their other eyes and ears. And now that they seem to have more eyes and more ears than before, they do a lot more staring.

They blink a few times and turn to Iofi.

“Okay,” they say in their quiet melodic voice. “We’re ready.”

Iofi nods, and strokes the turtle’s back.

~ * ~

The Dead Ringer has been wandering through the single room labyrinth for a while now. It is starting to take some effort to continue to suppress his rising panic.

After an hour of trying doors at random, he opens a door onto a lavish library. He almost cries out in relief at seeing something different, and rushes into the room, closing the door behind him, his chest heaving.

Sitting at a desk on the other side of the room is Rose Walker. She looks up in surprise at the noise. When she sees who it is, she startles, and slowly lowers the book she had been studying.

“What are you doing here?” she asks quietly.

The Dead Ringer draws a dagger and springs across the room. In an instant he is lunging across the desk raising the tip of the dagger to her throat and reaching for the back of her neck to draw her toward the point.

His hand passes through her head.

The silent assassin’s composure finally breaks as he flinches and moans out loud, “Wha-”

Walker smirks and says coolly, “Good to know.”


A sudden smell of burning oil, a bright light and a flash of heat behind him. A hand grabs the Ringer from behind even as he turns. He adjusts his grip on the knife and spins toward his assailant.


The library disappears and they are plunged into darkness. The only light is his attacker’s lit torch. For a brief second, he can see his foe, their face distorted by the flickering light and the dancing shadows caused by the torch. It’s the short one with the blonde hair. Maddox. The Ringer slashes at them, but they leap back and throw the torch at his face. He dodges and it falls to the ground, sputters, and nearly goes out.

From the darkness, “Snap.”

And then silence.

The Dead Ringer waits, tense as a coiled spring, for something or someone to leap out of the shadows at him. But nothing happens. He is alone.

He picks up the torch and looks around. Solid, dusty stone floor, about five feet by six feet. Low stone ceiling. Stone brick walls. No door. No windows. No exit.

In the corner is a tiny desk holding a dust covered book and a spent candlestick. A human skeleton sits behind the desk, slumped against the wall.

The Ringer screams out loud in anger.

Outside his tomb, his voice echoes impotently and unheard throughout the tunnels below the ruins of the abandoned church.